photo: Jake Walsh (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
See the bottom of this article for an update affecting Connor Coward.
Sometimes, when I sit down to award a Pitcher or Player of the Month, I already know the identity of the winner and just need to put the justification together and ensure I honorably treat the others.
That is not the case with St. Louis Cardinals minor league pitchers in August, however. It seems that 2018 has been the Year of the Hitter at the lower levels of the minors, especially after many of the organization’s top pitchers were promoted to St. Louis.
So this time, looking at the data is necessary to determining our choice as the top August pitcher in the system.
Among organizational pitchers, 34 tossed at least 20 innings last month. Of them, 12 logged an ERA under 3.00, and five came in under 2.00. Every level of the system is represented, with the exception of the very top – Triple-A Memphis – and the bottom – Dominican Summer League Red.
Here are the top 12, in ascending ERA order. We will focus on the top five in our analysis, unless one of the higher ERA finalists blows the others away.
Selecting the honoree
OK, as you can see, Palm Beach’s Jake Walsh has delivered the lowest ERA by a fair amount. That establishes him as the early leader.
Moving across the table, State College swingman Michael Baird was stingiest with walks, edging Walsh by a hair. Walsh leads in strikeout rate and the all-important strikeout to walk ratio. Baird allowed the fewest baserunners (as indicated by WHIP) and the lowest hitter slash line. In both cases, Walsh was right behind.
All things considered, Walsh’s ERA and strikeout to walk leadership earns the 23-year old right-hander The Cardinal Nation’s August Pitcher of the Month Award.
About the winner
Walsh was St. Louis’ 16th-round draft pick in June 2017 from Florida Southern. The 6-foot-1, 192-pounder dominated out of Johnson City’s bullpen last season, posting a 0.95 ERA in 16 appearances. That led to his selection as both our Johnson City Reliever of the Year and system-wide Rookie Reliever of the Year.
After a full winter of rest, Walsh returned to starting in 2018 and earned a season-opening spot in Peoria’s rotation. Following eight strong starts in the Midwest League (3.12 ERA), he was promoted to high-A Palm Beach before Memorial Day (May 24).
In the Florida State League, Walsh has been solid from the start, with the following ERA’s by month: May 3.00, June 2.25, July 2.62, August 1.38. Walsh is currently an honorable mention in The Cardinal Nation’s top prospect rankings.
During August, Walsh made five starts, during which he was remarkably consistent. He was charged with no runs in one outing and one each in the other four.
The only minor negative is that Walsh went six innings only twice, however, it should also be noted that he has proven himself to be a workhorse. Specifically, the Florida native has already thrown a system-leading 139 2/3 innings in his first full professional season. The organization may be saving bullets for the upcoming Florida State League playoffs.
Though their walk rates were a bit high comparatively, Johnson City’s Dionis Zamora and the Gulf Coast League’s Brian Pirela were stingy with the baserunners, leading both to finish the month with ERAs under two.
Springfield lefty Evan Kruczynski, who has been named to the Arizona Fall League, had the lowest WHIP of the 12 finalists at 0.90 and put together solid results across the board.
Three members of the division-winning DSL Cardinals Blue also attract attention. Inohan Paniagua allowed hitters the lowest slash line of this group. Julio Puello fanned an impressive 12 batters per nine innings, but Hector Soto logged an amazing strikeout to walk ratio of 13! All three are still teenagers.
Update: Where are GCL’s Perry DellaValle and Connor Coward?
I received several inquiries about the above duo not appearing in this analysis. In August, DellaValle threw 16 2/3 innings (with a 2.16 ERA), which is short of the minimum. While he also tossed six more in a playoff game, post-season stats are not reported other than in individual box scores and I do not track them manually.
However, Coward illustrates a problem with my data pull. It showed a 0.00 ERA over 15 innings, when the real numbers were 0.45 over 20 IP. It is clear his August 1 start was excluded for reasons I do not yet understand.
Though Coward’s ERA was lowest in this population, his selection would still not have been a slam dunk. His strikeout rate was an even 9 per 9, but his walk rate was (comparatively) quite high at 2.7 per nine, leading to a K/BB ratio of 3.3, which was not nearly as competitive as several other finalists in the table above.
There is also the question of 22-year old college pitchers (such as DellaValle and Coward) – who should really not be in the GCL – opposing teenage batters. However, since their assignment is not their decision, it should not be held against them. Yet, fair or not, it could definitely break a tie or tip a close comparison, in my view.
When all is said and done, Coward surely deserves mention for his August results, which I am addressing here.
Last month’s winner
I always look at how the prior Pitcher of the Month performed following his big month. Our July selection was right-hander Alex Fagalde of Peoria, who logged an impressive 0.90 ERA. That earned him an August 1 promotion to high-A Palm Beach.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Fagalde had an uneven Florida State League introduction, with a 3.62 ERA. It was really a tale of two months in one, as the 24-year old yielded just one run in total over his first three starts for Palm Beach, but was charged with four runs in each of the next three.
What is next
Derek Shore will be back on Sunday with the announcement of The Cardinal Nation’s August Player of the Month. Also, next week, the Cardinals organization should name their top player and pitcher during August. If they are not the same as our selections, they will almost certainly be higher-ranked prospects.
Once the Labor Day weekend was over, on Tuesday, September 4, the Cardinals organization announced their top player choices for August. Obviously, we agree!
#STLCards name INF Malcom Nunez (DSL Cardinals Blue) & RHP Jake Walsh (Palm Beach-A) Minor League Pitcher and Player of the Month for August.
Nunez hit 5 HR in final 7 games to win the Dominican Summer Lg Triple Crown (.415, 13 HR, 59 RBI).
Walsh was 2-2, 1.38 ERA in 26.0 IP.
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) September 4, 2018
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